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Photography by Sarah Sherman Samuel

Designer and Domino columnist Sarah Sherman Samuel takes us behind the scenes of her latest project in a monthly series that tackles the nitty-gritty of remodeling—from sourcing materials and fixtures to DIYing a kitchen island.

Originally, we were going to have this space be the office kitchen. After living in the home for a while, we scrapped that plan and decided to turn it into an area for entertaining and guests—we have a whole guest quarters–slash–mother-in-law suite downstairs, and figured it would be great to have that extra prep space for when people come to visit or when we have to cook bigger meals. 

In almost any room, if you fall in love with one thing, you can use that as a base to build the entire project around. In this kitchen, that was the Clé eastern earthenware tile, which was left over from our master bathroom renovation. I always like to look at things I have on hand first; if you can repurpose items, it’s so much easier. Because I had so many components of this room already—the table legs, the plywood for the island, the dining chairs—it came together pretty seamlessly. My main goal was building out contrasting finishes. 

Sconces, Huxe; Photography by Sarah Sherman Samuel

Design is all about finding balance; if every single thing has texture, it will get lost. Your eye wants a place to rest: Pit something smooth against something rough, mix and match tones, incorporate modern touches against rustic features. That’s when the magic happens. 

Here, since the backsplash is so glossy, we chose Portola Paint’s Roman Clay for a matte finish. One thing I really kept in mind was color-blocking, or, more accurately, neutral-blocking. I wanted to have the whole bank of cabinets against the wall, from countertop down, be inky black: All the appliances, cabinetry, and counters are the same. Looking above that, everything is the chalky, taupe-like color of the tile, including the range hood. The entire island (aside from the faucet) is a wood tone. For me, it was all about playing up the texture within those monochromatic spaces—it makes it feel really layered and interesting to look at. 

Zellige Tile, Clé Tile; Photography by Sarah Sherman Samuel

The room started to really come together once we installed the cabinets. Just seeing it go from empty IKEA boxes to adding on our Semihandmade fronts…it was like, bam, instant kitchen! We had an IKEA assembly party with family friends, and got the kids involved in “helping”: We ordered pizza, and everyone grabbed a cabinet. It made the install go by really fast, and we put all the cupboards together in one night. 

Convection Oven, Café Appliances; Quarterline Door, Semihandmade; Photography by Sarah Sherman Samuel

We did mess up and get the wrong hinges (pro tip: IKEA actually has two different kinds for their cabinets, so be sure to read the fine print to know which ones you need!), but other than that, I love how the kitchen turned out. Every now and then, I like to switch up the vessels. Recently I added some candlesticks to the ledge and swapped out the white bowl you see in the photos for a vase—it’s fun to restyle the countertops and create new mini vignettes. 

We’ve already had my sisters visit with their families, and they both stayed down there. One has a gluten allergy, so she brought a lot of her own food, and it was nice to be able to give her a place to cook. (There were a lot of mac-and-cheese nights.) We also have ended up using it for our kids, because their at-home learning room is right off the kitchen. The sink has come in handy for washing off craft supplies and paints—we even made homemade slime. This little room has proven to be such a multipurpose space. 

As told to Elly Leavitt.